I recently read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD. His insight perfectly blends medicine and emotion when it comes to the inevitable challenges of aging. What struck me most was a passage related to seniors falling.
“The danger for her was losing what she had. The single most serious threat she faced was not the lung nodule or the back pain. It was falling. Each year, about 350,000 Americans fall and break a hip. Of those, 40% end up in a nursing home, and 20% are never able to walk again. The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than 4 prescription medications, and muscle weakness. Elderly people without these risk factors have a 12% chance of falling in a year. Those with all three risk factors have almost a 100% chance.”
Now think of yourself or aging parent, and whether these three factors apply. If they do the time to act is RIGHT NOW. Speaking to your doctor about medication is step one. You may find that some of the medications are considered preventative and the least of our problems. Take cholesterol medication as an example. We’d be so lucky to pass from an overdose of bacon at age 85 vs complications arising from Alzheimer’s. Potentially it’s time to revisit our health goals and the necessity of all our medications as they can be doing more harm than good.
Additionally, this passage reinforced the importance of incorporating fitness into a senior’s day. If a senior has or is considering moving to assisted living, there is very likely access to a gym. In fact, many facilities start the day with a light exercise class that promotes balance and agility. If a retirement community isn’t in the cards, then decide on how to bring exercise to the senior. This can be done with a physical therapist, home care companion, local senior center, or family. The key is to keep it safe and consistent.
Ignoring the importance of periodic health assessments and exercise can be the difference between retaining independence or landing in a skilled care facility. Make reducing the risk of a senior falling your new priority. If the idea of assisted living, physical therapy, or home care sounds expensive, consider the fact that skilled care is costing $12,927/month on average in the Greater Boston area. Find out the cost of cost in your area here, including assisted living and home care: Genworth Cost of Care Report 2020